Organic Laws of Oregon

Organic Laws of Oregon
Section II of the Organic Laws
Section II of the Organic Laws
Created 1843
Ratified July 5, 1843
Location Oregon Country
Authors Legislative Committee
Purpose Framework for the Provisional Government of Oregon

The Organic Laws of Oregon were two sets of laws passed in the 1840s that established a structure for government in the Oregon Country in the northwest corner of North America. These laws were created by a legislative committee formed after the Champoeg Meetings. At the last Champoeg Meeting in May 1843, the majority of voters from among the settlers of the Oregon Country voted to create what became the Provisional Government of Oregon. Laws were drafted by the committee and accepted by a popular vote in July. These laws were reformed by a second version in 1845.

The Organic Laws were based on the laws of Iowa Territory and compartmentalized the government into three branches consisting of an executive branch, a legislative branch, and a judiciary. Once the Oregon Territory was formed in 1848, the territorial government took control of the laws and invalidated only one provision of the Organic Laws. On February 14, 1859, Oregon became a state and the Oregon Constitution became the legal framework for the state.



In 1841 a series of meetings were held at Champoeg on French Prairie in the Willamette Valley. The first meetings were held in part as a response to the death of Ewing Young who had died without a will.[1] In February 1841 a probate judge was appointed along with a few other positions, but no further movement towards a government occurred.[2]

On February 2, 1843, a new series of meetings began with a gathering at the Oregon Institute in what is now Salem to discuss problems with predatory animals attacking livestock.[1] Meetings continued in the valley over the next few months until a large general meeting was held at Champoeg on May 2, 1843.[3] A proposal for forming a provisional government was discussed and eventually a committee recommendation to form a government was put to a vote with the tally being 52 votes in favor of forming a government with 50 votes against the formation.[1] This vote created the Provisional Government of Oregon.[2]

First organic laws

Seal of the Provisional Government

With the formation of the Provisional Government, a committee of nine individuals were elected to frame the laws of the government.[4] This Legislative Committee consisted of David Hill, Robert Shortess, Alanson Beers, William H. Gray, James A. O'Neil, Robert Newell, Thomas J. Hubbard, William Dougherty, and Robert Moore who was elected as the chairman of the committee.[4] Each member was to be paid $1.25 per day for their services with the first meeting held May 15, 1843.[4] On July 4 a new gathering began at Champoeg with speeches for and against the proposals of the committee.[4] Then on July 5, 1843 the Organic Laws of Oregon are adopted by popular vote after being recommended by the Legislative Committee, with the laws modeled after Iowa’s Organic Law and the Ordinance of 1787, creating the de facto first Oregon constitution.[5]

Section I of the laws had five articles and a preamble. This section guaranteed freedom of religion, the right to a trial by jury, the right to the writ of Habeas corpus, no cruel or unnatural punishment among other bill of rights types of laws.[4] It also encouraged education, prohibited slavery except as punishment for crimes, and several measures dealing with Native Americans such as guaranteeing their property rights.[4]

Section II had eighteen articles dealing mainly with the structure of the Provisional Government. Articles 1 through 4 covered the elections of officers and who was allowed to vote.[4] Article 5 created the Executive Committee of three people to act in place of a single executive.[4] Article 6 formed the legislature with Article 7 outlining the courts.[4] Articles 8 through 11 establish and define the offices of treasurer and recorder, and 12 through 15 outline what laws of Iowa are adopted.[4] Article 16 regulated the Supreme Court sessions with two session held annually.[4] Article 17 contained the laws regulating marriage where men 16 years and older and women 14 years or older were allowed to marry, with parental consent until reaching age 21.[4] It cost $1 dollar to marry and 50¢ to record the marriage.[1]

The laws also divided the region into four districts, called for a subscription of settlers to pay for the government, and named the region Oregon Territory.[4] Lastly, two other sections created a militia and outlined land claims.[4] The militia was to consist of one battalion with control of the military under the Executive Committee.[4] The land laws limited settlers to one land claim with a maximum of 640 acres (2.6 km2) and required improvements to the land within six months of recording a land claim.[4]

Second organic laws

During 1845 the Legislative Committee made revisions to the Organic Laws, but they did not have the power to implement these changes.[4] They needed the approval of the citizens to enact the changes.[4] On July 26, 1845 a public vote passed the amended Organic Laws of Oregon.[5] One change was that the Legislative Committee was replaced by a House of Representatives that would have thirteen to 61 members with the authority to change the laws by vote without a need to submit changes to a popular vote of the people.[4] The other major alteration was the change from a three person Executive Committee to an executive office of a single governor that would have all the powers that the committee had possessed.[4]


Upon the assumption of territorial power by Governor Joseph Lane in 1849, he approved the Organic Laws as the basis of law in the Oregon Territory.[6] These laws would play a part in the determination of where the capital would be located.[6] The Oregon Constitutional Convention in 1857 created a new Constitution that was passed by the people of Oregon on November 9, 1857, and became effective upon statehood on February 14, 1859, usurping the Organic Laws of Oregon.[7]


  1. ^ a b c d Horner, John B. (1921). "Oregon: Her History, Her Great Men, Her Literature". The J.K. Gill Co.: Portland.
  2. ^ a b Brown, J. Henry (1892). Brown’s Political History of Oregon: Provisional Government. Wiley B. Allen. 
  3. ^ Clarke, S.A. (1905). Pioneer Days of Oregon History. J.K. Gill Company. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t Gray, William H. A History of Oregon, 1792-1849, Drawn from personal observation and authentic information. Harris & Holman: Portland, OR. 1870.
  5. ^ a b Dobbs, Caroline C. (1932). Men of Champoeg: A Record of the Lives of the Pioneers Who Founded the Oregon Government. Metropolitan Press. 
  6. ^ a b Stealing the Capital. End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center. Retrieved on March 5, 2008.
  7. ^ Corning, Howard M. (1956). Dictionary of Oregon History. Binfords & Mort Publishing. p. 60.

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